Upper trigram: K'un The Receptive, Earth
Lower trigram: K'an The Abysmal, Water
The Army. The army needs perseverance
And a strong man.
Good fortune without blame.
In the middle of the earth is water:
The image of The Army.
Thus the superior man increases his masses
By generosity toward the people.
These texts apply only for the lines that were marked, when the hexagram was cast. Note that the lines are counted from the bottom up.
The bottom line marked means:
An army must set forth in proper order.
If the order is not good, misfortune threatens.
The 2nd line marked means:
In the midst of the army.
Good fortune. No blame.
The king bestows a triple decoration.
The 3rd line marked means:
Perchance the army carries corpses in the wagon.
The 4th line marked means:
The army retreats. No blame.
The 5th line marked means:
There is game in the field.
It furthers one to catch it.
Let the eldest lead the army.
The younger transports corpses;
Then perseverance brings misfortune.
The top line marked means:
The great prince issues commands,
Founds states, vests families with fiefs.
Inferior people should not be employed.
The interpretations above and comments below are from Richard Wilhelm's version of the I CHING.
Comments on the Hexagram
This hexagram is made up of the trigrams K'an, water, and K'un, earth, and
thus it symbolizes the ground water stored up in the earth. In the same way
military strength is stored up in the mass of the people — invisible in times of
peace but always ready for use as a source of power. The attributes of the two
trig rams are danger inside and obedience must prevail outside.
Of the individual lines, the one that controls the hexagram is the strong
nine in the second place, to which the other lines, all yielding, are
subordinate. This line indicates a commander, because it stands in the
middle of one of the two trigrams. But since it is in the lower rather than the
upper trigram, it represents not the ruler but the efficient general, who
maintains obedience in the army by his authority.
An army is a mass that needs organization in order to become a fighting force.
Without strict discipline nothing can be accomplished, but this discipline
must not be achieved by force. It requires a strong man who captures the
hearts of the people and awakens their enthusiasm. In order that he may
develop his abilities he needs the complete confidence of his ruler, who must
entrust him with full responsibility as long as the war lasts. But war is always
a dangerous thing and brings with it destruction and devastation. Therefore
it should not be resorted to rashly but, like a poisonous drug, should be used
as a last recourse.
Ground water is invisibly present within the earth. In the same way the
military power of a people is invisibly present in the masses. When danger
threatens, every peasant becomes present in the masses. When danger
threatens, every peasant becomes a soldier; when the war ends, he goes back
to his plow. He who is generous toward the people wins their love, and a
people living under a mild rule becomes strong and powerful. Only a people
economically strong can be important in military power. Such power must
therefore be cultivated by improving the economic condition of the people
and by humane government. Only when there is this invisible bond between
government and people, so that the people are sheltered by their
government as ground water is sheltered by the earth, is it possible to wage a
The bottom line marked
At the beginning of a military enterprise, order is imperative. A just and
valid cause must exist, and the obedience and coordination of the troops must
be well organized, otherwise the result is inevitably failure.
The 2nd line from the bottom marked
The leader should be in the midst of his army, in touch with it, sharing good
and bad with the masses he leads. This alone makes him equal to the heavy
demands made upon him. He needs also the recognition of the ruler. The
decorations he receives are justified, because there is no question of personal
preferment here: the whole army, whose center he is, is honored in his
The 3rd line from the bottom marked
Here we have a choice of two explanations. One points to defeat because
someone other than the chosen leader interferes with the command; the
other is similar in its general meaning, but the expression, "carries corpses in
the wagon," is interpreted differently. At burials and at sacrifices to the dead it
was customary in China for the deceased to whom the sacrifice was made to
be represented by a boy of the family, who sat in the dead man's place and was
honored as his representative. On the basis of this custom the text is
interpreted as meaning that a "corpse boy" is sitting in the wagon, or, in
other words, that authority is not being exercised by the proper leaders but has
been usurped by others. Perhaps the whole difficulty clears up if it is inferred
that there has been an error in copying. The character fan, meaning "all," may
have been misread as shih, which means "corpse." Allowing for this error,
the meaning would be that if the multitude assumes leadership of the army
(rides in the wagon), misfortune will ensue.
The 4th line from the bottom marked
In the face of a superior enemy, with whom it would be hopeless to engage in
battle, an orderly retreat is the only correct procedure, because it will save the
army from defeat and disintegration. It is by no means a sign of courage or
strength to insist upon engaging in a hopeless struggle regardless of
The 5th line from the bottom marked
Game is in the field — it has left its usual haunts in the forest and is
devastating the fields. This points to an enemy invasion. Energetic combat
and punishment are here thoroughly justified, but they must not degenerate
into a wild melee in which everyone fends for himself. Despite the greatest
degree of perseverance and bravery, this would lead to misfortune. The army
must be directed by an experienced leader. It is a matter of waging war, not of
permitting the mob to slaughter all who fall into their hands; if they do,
defeat will be the result, and despite all perseverance there is danger of
The top line marked
The war has ended successfully, victory is won, and the king divided estates
and fiefs among his faithful vassals. But it is important that inferior people
should not come into power. If they have helped, let them be paid off with
money, but they should not be awarded lands or the privileges of rulers, lest
power be abused.
Here I add some perspectives on this hexagram, as well as other methods to read its meaning, in additon to what Richard Wilhelm derives from it above.
Meaning of the Trigrams Combined
Each hexagram combines two trigrams, making one the upper and the other the lower. The meaning of the hexagram is mainly derived from that combination. Here's what it means for this hexagram:
Earth upon Water
This part of the text is being edited. It will be added shortly.
Yin and Yang Significances
The hexagram is quite unbalanced between Yin and Yang. Only one of the lines is Yang (full), and all the others Yin (broken). Not only that, but the solitary Yang line is second from bottom, which is not a strong position. It is neither the base nor the top, but squeezed by Yin from both sides.
So, this is a grim hexagram, where the sole gleam of light is completely covered by darkness. Indeed, a powerful image of the army. As Dante's sign on the gate of Hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
Yin stands for darkness, cold and earthly, whereas Yang is light, warmth and the heavenly. This hexagram's rule of Yin suggests people acting with no concern for the will of heaven. They make themselves blind to elevated perspectives, in order to pursue violently materialistic cravings.
But they can't dsitinguish the light completely. That one Yang line continues shine, albeit ever so slightly, in the midst of it. A reminder of the need for contemplation of what really counts at length, and of what power prevails.
This unfortunate unbalance between Yin and Yang shows a problem of such magnitude it seems only to be soluble by brute force. But such forces tend to create more problems than they solve — and no matter the mayhem: the final outcome is decided by other forces.
Read more about the polarity of Yin and Yang here:
Yin and Yang
Compare to the Reversed Trigrams
It's common to compare a hexagram to the one where the lines are the opposite: a full line is broken and a broken line full. But I find it much more interesting to compare hexagrams with the trigrams reversed: the upper trigram becomes the lower, and the lower trigram becomes the upper. That deepens the understanding of the trigrams at work — when they're not identical. Click the image to see what it means for the two trigrams of this hexagram:
The hexagram with the trigrams reversed
Compare to the Reversed Lines
You can also compare this hexagram to its opposite according to the six lines, where each broken line is full, and vice versa. In some cases it leads to the same hexagram as the one where the trigrams are switched. Here is the hexagram with reversed lines (click it to get to its webpage):
Hexagram with opposite lines
Click the header to read more about the eight trigrams that are combined into the 64 hexagrams.
The 64 I Ching Hexagrams
An I Ching hexagram is composed of two trigrams. Each of the 64 hexagrams has its own name, meaning, and divinatory text. Here they all are, in the traditional order. Click on the image of an I Ching hexagram to get to its webpage.
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